Seeking company, finding community
Bored of the beach, a tourist attends a local church service.
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"Many people are like garbage trucks," the taxi driver explained. "They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it, and if you let them, they'll dump it on you. When someone wants to dump on you, don't take it personally. Instead, just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on."Skip to next paragraph
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After the parable about turning the other cheek (advice worth keeping in mind on a Caribbean island or city streets), the teacher handed each congregant a slip of paper with a Bible verse written in red ink. Each parishioner stood, Alcoholics Anonymous-style, read the verse aloud, and spoke about its real-life relevance. Topics ranged from the benefits of patience to the dangers of gossip.
A large, elderly woman wearing a black hat and thick glasses asked the teacher to read her assigned verse because "my eyes are not right."
The passage extolled the virtue of forgiveness, and the woman shifted in her pew. She admitted in a quiet, vulnerable voice that did not match her frame how she finds it easy enough to forgive but extremely hard to forget. When wronged, she carries a grudge.
My turn came. I was meant to discuss Ephesians 4:22-24, which I later found out commands the faithful "to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires." But I did not have a Bible on hand, only the hymnbook. I felt like a sixth-grader unprepared for a pop quiz.
But I wanted to contribute something more than a few dollars for the offering plate. I owed it to my hosts to participate. I stood and said that the Bible often deliberates about the meaning of beauty. As does modern society. We typically define beauty as a gorgeous beach; a sleek, new car; or a fancy mansion; but I saw beauty before me in the sense of community I was witnessing.
Much to my relief, I heard murmurs of approval from my new, albeit temporary, neighbors. Soon the Sunday school teacher asked us to join hands and pray.
I remain a steadfast secularist and still consider bagels with smoked salmon and a schmear as my Sunday ritual, but as I bowed my head and clasped hands with my pew mates on the right and left, I had enjoyed a religious experience.